WHANGAREI, NEW ZEALAND >> The wheels in their heads start to turn. Then the questions come like a faucet on full blast:
Where do you sleep? What foods do you eat? How fast does the canoe go? Is it windy? How did you build it? Won’t the waves break it?
Also: Do you eat pizza in Hawaii?
By the time the Hokule‘a and its sister canoe, Hikianalia, leave Whangarei next Thursday, its crew expects to have brought as many as 600 local elementary school students aboard.
The latest leg of the worldwide voyage, dubbed Malama Honua (“Care for the Earth”), has taken the canoes on a monthlong, approximately 1,100-mile journey through the South Pacific to New Zealand, with stops in Tonga and the Kermadec Islands along the way.
The Hokule‘a’s previous visit to New Zealand took place 29 years ago, during its 1985-1987 Voyage of Rediscovery to retrace the migratory routes used by ancient Polynesian voyagers.
A group of Whangarei kids, ages 5 to 12, radiate pure noise, energy and excitement as they gather dockside facing the wa‘a, or canoe.
Some are more rambunctious than others. For example, when one youth dropped medical officer Martina Kamaka’s pen in the water, she had to make sure several kids didn’t go into the water after it. The crews want them to experience as much as possible, but they also keep a watchful eye.
Under a gazebo on the dock, students gather in a circle to learn the basics of celestial navigation from pwo (master) navigators Onohi Paishon and Kalepa Baybayan.
Aboard the Hokule‘a, veteran crew member Michael “Buddy” McGuire teaches a group how to handle the large middle hoe, or sweep, to steer the canoe. All of the voyaging crew members must learn how to use it, he explained.
Where this leg is light on sailing, it’s heavy on public outreach. In the past three days, crews have followed an exhaustive schedule, starting before 7 a.m. to clean the canoes and set up tables for the dockside school visits.
Often, the voices of other crew members carry across Hikianalia’s deck as they chat live through an Internet video feed with school classes, answering questions about life on the canoe. Sometimes the connection freezes, but overall the chats across the Pacific Ocean have gone relatively smoothly in Whangarei.
These days in the harbor underscore the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s emphasis on education and outreach for the ongoing worldwide voyage. What’s the point in a risky sail around the Earth, PVS officials reason, if they can’t share the journey with as many people as possible?
In addition to the school visits, each day several dozen or so curious onlookers visit the canoe as they walk by the dock, learning more about its history, its worldwide sail and the reasons behind it.